As we saw in this week’s modules, we saw that urban agriculture contributes on a local level. The positive impacts varied from feeding the community to compost. For today, an aspect that captured my attention was how much food is wasted in the U.S. which according to the USDA is about 30-40% which equates to $161 billion. This is a lot of food that can just as easily be composted. While some is from production being unable to keep up with the perfection standards another part come from individual effort. The United States Environmental Protection Agency calculated that as of 2018, 68% of food in homes is wasted which accumulates to 42.8 million tons of food wasted. Out of that percentage the United States Environmental Protection Agency estimates that 30% could be composted at home. This would help us reduce our carbon footprint individually and as a whole.
Recommended U.S. EPA ways to prevent waste
- Make grocery list according to your meals not vice versa.
- Estimating how much of each product will be needed per meal. For example if you are cooking fajitas and it is just you just buying one bell pepper.
- Taking inventory of the household items before shopping.
- Learning how to store items. Bananas release ripening gases so if put near other fruits it will ripen all of the fruit. Freezing items especially seasonal.
- Perishable items can be precooked and frozen. This can mean if you have more time to cook on Sundays and you bought everything to make a sandwich you can prep these and stick them in the freezer.
- Recycling stale food turning bread into croutons. Or repurposing meals that were once made and left over into another meal.
An article Scientific American reports on ways that people have found ways to cut food waste. An example of this is restaurants donating food that would otherwise go to waste in order to help feed the poor. Some even use vegetables that are no longer in their prime as a cheap alternative to livestock feed. An extreme people are willing to go to in order to protect the environment and save some money is known as “freeganism”. Freeganists are so dedicated to they take it one step further and depend on food waste that us dumped. Essentially they live off of dumpster diving which not only prevents more food going to waste but also help mitigate some of the effects of those who do waste. For those who prefer less extreme options the U.S EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) provides a guide to how people can compost at home both indoors and outdoors.
Composting at home the DO’s
- Provide the compost with plenty of water to aid the decomposition process.
- Browns such as dead leaves, branches, and twigs can be composted.
- Greens such as grass clippings, vegetable waste, fruit scraps (banana peels), and coffee grounds.
- More randomized items that can be put into compost: dryer and cleaner lint, newspapers, hair and fur and fire place ash.
- Alternate layers of green and brown (sort of like a casserole). Make sure items are of varying sizes as smaller pieces will decompose a lot faster.
In a previous research I had conducted ash can help make an acidic soil more basic. It also provides more organic matter which promotes the bacteria and fungi to reproduce more due to the ample food supply. When applied to the soil overtime there will be a layer of black “soil” which indicates a soil horizon of high organic matter content. To avoid smell, rodents, and other pests you must follow a proper way of composting and not add every waste items.
- Do not add any animal wastes such as unwanted meats, fats or bones.
- Dairy products like yogurt cannot be composted.
- Oils, grease, or fats may not be composted. If composted it will attract pests and bad smells.
Although compost are very beneficial Harrison believed many had a false assumption that composting is fertilizer. While it can provide minimal nutrient content it cannot be available to the plant until it is fully decomposed. Nitrogen as its plant available form is ammonium or nitrate. In the initial stages fertilizer will be needed to see significant growth of plants decrease int the need for fertilizer. This is due to higher microbial activity which can help with pore space, added layer of protection from pests, and a water retention layer that helps regulate water.
In conclusion, there is a lot more to do to reduce food waste in the U.S.. Though there are many right steps such as the LA Kitchen or imperfect vegetable companies who sell at reduced price we are not exactly where we should be. However, if we all do our part by things like composting or analyzing the way we shop we can mitigate some of the issues at hand.
Composting At Home. (2020, October 29). Retrieved November 30, 2020, from https://www.epa.gov/recycle/composting-home
Food Waste FAQs. (n.d.). Retrieved November 30, 2020, from https://www.usda.gov/foodwaste/faqs
Harrison, R. B. (2008). Composts. Retrieved November 30, 2020, from https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/agricultural-and-biological-sciences/composts
Reducing Wasted Food At Home. (2020, October 29). Retrieved November 30, 2020, from https://www.epa.gov/recycle/reducing-wasted-food-home
Waste Land: Does the Large Amount of Food Discarded in the U.S. Take a Toll on the Environment? (2010, March 03). Retrieved November 30, 2020, from https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/earth-talk-waste-land/
3 thoughts on “How much can one individual Impact? Analyzing food waste in the U.S.”
Looking at the numbers, wasted food is a big problem in the United States as some people don’t have enough to eat but we’re throwing away tons of food to the landfill. This does not always mean leftovers as “imperfect” food that can also include foods that look ugly, are thrown away too. Consumers need to be aware of the amount of foods they consume to prevent themselves from tossing out food that they can’t finish. Yet, if they find themselves with excess food, there are preservation methods that can prolong the shelf life. One method is freezing food and it can also lock in nutrients and minerals. Another way is to ferment, such as with sauerkraut which is made with cabbage. One common way of preserving food is pickling, which only involves a simple brine of water, salt, sugar, and vinegar. These are just a few examples of ways people can extend the shelf life of foods they buy excess of, but the simplest way to reduce food waste would be to not buy too much and look beyond “imperfect” appearances.
This video done by National Geographic highlights one our worst habits, massive food waste. Ethically, food waste is very bad because there so much that goes into the production of food from back breaking work, to very expensive farming operations to produce our food. About 2 billion people face food insecurity, so its unfathomable to think to that Americans throw out 35 million tons of food, enough food to feed 70% of hungry people in America. Not only can we be feeding people who face food insecurity, but we are also throwing away $165 billion worth of food. Coming from a farming family, I can not help but think how ignorant some people can be to the effort and time that it takes to have a successful crop, and to throw away 1/3 of the food made for human consumption is a ridiculous. Not only is this a slap in the face to our farmers, it is just as bad for our Earth. When food sits in a landfill, it emits methane, which is 21 times more potent than carbon dioxide as a greenhouse gas which has been found to be a major factor of global warming. Until we start to truly appreciate and fully grasp the concept of what goes into growing a successful crop, we will continue to see the mindless waste of food.
In terms of the total amount of food waste, the U.S is the global leader in food waste with Americans discarding nearly forty million tons of food every year. That amount of food waste is approximately two hundred and nineteen pounds of food waste per person and thirty to forty percent of the U.S food supply. Most of the food waste ends up in the landfill with food waste being the single largest item taking up space inside U.S landfills and makes up about twenty two percent of municipal solid waste.
One of the biggest contributors to the high amount of food waste is food spoilage. More than eighty percent of Americans throw out good food because they don’t understand food labels. Labels such as “use by”, “expires on” and “best before” are confusing to the average person and in an effort to avoid developing a foodborne illness, they will throw the food away. In contrast to the rest of the world, food in the U.S is plentiful and inexpensive which contributes to the notion of not appreciating or valuing food the same way other cultures around the world do. In addition, Americans are often impulsive in their food purchases and have an unrealistic idea of how much food is required and results in them buying more food than they need or buying food they will never eat.
However, in order to reduce the amount of food waste legislators in states such as California, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Vermont have proposed laws that restrict the amount of food waste that is sent to the landfills. In addition, Vermont has established a Universal Recycling Law which bans food scrap waste altogether. In addition, there is pending legislation in California, Colorado, and Massachusetts that would establish programs that would establish programs to fund private sector composting and organic collection programs. Also, other states like Tennessee and Washington and cities like Los Angeles California and Madison Wisconsin have created food waste task forces in an attempt to reduce food waste, create compost education programs, and eliminate food waste from U.S landfills.